HDTV on the Cheap

You rarely used to hear the words "HDTV" and "bargain" in the same sentence, but times are changing fast. While the stickers affixed to LCD and plasma sets, or LCD and DLP (Digital Light Processing) projection TVs, still hover in the multithousand dollar range, and the commissioned salespeople at electronics stores suddenly all seem to be driving new cars, the lowly old cathode-ray tube (CRT) quietly delivers outstanding value. The latest crop of direct-view CRT sets is no exception, like the three modestly priced TVs reviewed here - Toshiba's 32HF73 ($1,099), Samsung's TX-P2670WH ($700) and Sony's KV-30HS420 ($999), all available "on the streeet" for less than these list prices.

All three can display high-definition sources as well as progressive- scan DVD, and the Samsung even has a built-in HDTV tuner. None of their screens are big enough to show the full detail of HDTV, but their medium-size pictures make a good compromise for apartments and small dens, or even large living rooms where the TV isn't the focal point. The Toshiba is the only one with a standard squarish 4:3 aspect-ratio screen, but its 29-inch (diagonal) letterboxed widescreen picture actually measures 3 inches larger than the Samsung's and is only an inch smaller than the Sony's. If you watch more TV than movies, 4:3 still makes sense, but if you want to make the most of DVDs or HDTV, consider going wide.

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